John Moulder

The Eleventh Hour


MUSIC REVIEW BY Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune


Last July, as Chicago guitarist John Moulder was preparing for a two-night run at the Green Mill Jazz Club, veteran Chicago recording engineer Ken Christianson offered to record the sessions.

Moulder didn't hesitate, even though he would be performing with the creative young Chicago saxophonist Geof Bradfield for the first time. With pianist Jim Trompeter, bassist Larry Gray and drummer Paul Wertico ? all longtime Moulder collaborators ? also on the bandstand, Moulder played the engagement as he would any other, offering guitar virtuosity of a high order, as well as characteristically inventive original compositions.

To Moulder's surprise, he says, the two nights yielded performances strong enough to be released as his newest recording, "The Eleventh Hour: Live at the Green Mill" (Origin Records). Indeed, the album overflows with a joyousness that's typical of Moulder's live dates, as well as a collection of original tunes that stand up remarkably well to repeated hearing.

Moreover, "The Eleventh Hour" ? whose release Moulder will celebrate this weekend at the Green Mill ? stands in stark contrast to his studio recordings. If his "Bifrost" (2009) and "Trinity" (2006) show the man keeping tight rein over tone, texture and sonic balances, "The Eleventh Hour" sounds positively untethered, the freedom of the ensemble's playing matched by exuberance of solos by Moulder and colleagues.

"I always had wanted a live recording, but I wasn't anticipating that this would be the one," says Moulder, who will be reconvening the quintet for his shows on Friday and Saturday nights.

"I guess the nice thing about it was that because I wasn't thinking of a record, I was less mindful about making one. We just played what we played. I was just more concerned about making sure that the sets had a flow to them, that everyone (in the band) knew what was going on with the charts.

"But it does have a raw energy about it. I like that fact that the band was taking some chances and going for some things. Sometimes in a studio, you might feel a little less inclined than when you're off in your own booth (in the recording studio)."

Certainly these players take risks throughout "The Eleventh Hour," Moulder's airborne solos backed by larger-than-life drum work from Wertico and restlessly creative playing from Bradfield and the rest of the band. From the ferocious rhythmic drive of the first track, the aptly titled "Proclamation of the Unexpected," to the serene opening and surging finale of the recording's closer, "Time Being," the album offers a distinct sonic world in each selection.

And there's something else captured on this album, as well: The energy of the room, the audience audibly involved in the proceedings yet never obtrusive.

"I love the intimacy of the Mill," says Moulder. "And I felt that rapport with the audience right away. I've played there a good amount, and I feel at home there.

"And (the club) really stressed people listening, and it helped with our recording. ? There's a little guitar intro (to 'Cold Sea Triptych'), and it was so quiet that I was thinking, 'Oh, my God, we could actually use this on a recording.' The crowd was really respectful, and I think they felt enthused to be a part of the recording."

This release, of course, represents just a fraction of Moulder's far-reaching work in this city. He's also a Catholic priest, and in a convergence of his roles as man of faith and man of jazz, last March he presided over the third annual Chi-Town Jazz Festival, an event he created and for which Chicago musicians and clubowners donate their services to raise funds for the hungry.

"We doubled what we brought in last year," says Moulder, whose festival raised approximately $26,000 in donations.

"So we've got plans to do it again next year."

More good works from a great Chicago musician.





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